Monday, February 10, 2020

We approached this day, our stomachs lucid and yearning, an unavoidable apex of these 366 days set to crown February as quite possibly the greatest month of this endeavour. Sure, we got that new puppy last week, but today was perhaps the ultimate food celebration of the year.

National Pizza Day

If, throughout the course of this year-long party, you hear me refer to anything other than pizza as the perfect food, you have my permission to verbally thwack me in my literary gonads, as I would clearly be speaking in error. Pizza is perfection. It’s all four food groups in every bite. When made Neapolitan style (tomatoes and mozza – authentic Neapolitan requires ingredients from Italy), it’s divine. When made Sicilian style (focaccia crust), it’s hearty and wonderful. When made Detroit style (rectangular, with a crispy crust), it’s still a wondrous feast.

The North American debate for the ultimate pizza (among many – no offense meant to the residents of St. Louis, New Haven, Trenton, and anywhere else that claims to be the best) is between New York and Chicago.

If pizza can teach us anything, it’s the value of coexistence. The metropolitan tug-of-war over which pizza style reigns supreme is a reflection of this lesson. Both are the culmination of their own respective paths to the ideal. One is a high wall of crisp dough, barely containing a river of sauce and a mountain of toppings. It’s an avalanche of flavour, nearly impossible to consume with hands alone. The other shimmers with grease, with toppings arranged atop a thin, portable and bendable slice. We all have our preference, but to deny one is to deny ourselves a significant portion of this perfection.

On any given day, 13% of Americans dine on pizza. We are saddened that most are settling for chain-store varieties, or worse yet, grocery store chemical-slabs. Way up here in the tundra, true New York style is absent and genuine Chicago deep dish has been supplanted by some horrid bastardization, consisting of a normal pizza top upon a thick chunk of spongy dough. But wait… things aren’t all bad, are they?

In 2016 Conde Nast put out a list of the 14 best pizza cities on the planet. Near the bottom of this list (but still… top 14 material) are Las Vegas, L.A., Philly, Rome, Milan, Palermo and Florence. Then at #8 – ahead of four Italian cities, mind you – is Edmonton. How is this possible? Ask anyone around here and they will have no answer. But this is a banner our city should wave more proudly. Locals have their favourites, but last night we visited our undisputed #1 haunt in town, Tony’s Pizza Palace. The crust is bursting with as much flavour as the toppings, and we’ve never had anything less than a perfect pie from Tony’s. A perfect pie of the perfect food. Thank you, February.

National Bagel (And Lox) Day

January 15 was National Bagel Day, yet here we are again. It seems that what some celebrate as National Bagel Day in February is in fact National Bagel And Lox Day to others. Since the bagel & lox combo (along with the requisite cream cheese, capers and onions) is one of the greatest breakfast/lunch/brunch creations on the planet, we were happy to give this day another run.

There are also two National Doughnut Days. Some things are simply not worth complaining about.

As we discussed (probably – I don’t feel like checking) back in January, the bagel sailed from Polish Jewish communities, across the Atlantic and into the tradition of New York Jewish cuisine. I’ve been eating them since my first teeth blasted past my gums. I should have consumed enough bagels by now to be an outright snob about them.

And I have. But while I prefer the New York style to the Montreal style, and I believe a proper bagel should be boiled (and please spare the sourdough), I simply can’t brazenly boast of my favourite bagel establishment. The sad fact is that I’ve yet to sample a bagel that can hold a schmear to those my grandmother used to concoct.

So we were relegated to some sesame-seed / poppy-seed bagels from Bon Ton Bakery. Still a solid win, as these little dough-rings were percolating with flavour, even with nothing on them. Done up properly with its lox companions, it was a great meal. We ate well yesterday.

Read In The Bathtub Day

Not the most practical thing to do in a bathtub, since a few wayward splashes could render your reading material ruined beyond repair, but I did her best. Skipping the water really helped to preserve the book. It also helped Rosa to feel much more comfortable.

Man Day

What to do for Man Day? Do I get a card? A present? A gift certificate for a good ol’ man-pamperin’?

No, but I made the above short video of me doing manly things, like frowning at a vehicle engine, fixing stuff and sports.

I’ve got the day off today, which means I won’t be distracted by pesky work things. Instead I can focus my attention on this:

  • National Home Warranty Day. Do we have a home warranty? Do we have warranties on anything in our home? I’ll find out!
  • National Clean Out Your Computer Day. My computer is relatively new, but already it’s gummed up with files I don’t need. I’ll tidy things up.
  • National Cream Cheese Brownie Day. A delicious day for meals yesterday, today gets dominated by my sweet tooth.
  • Tu B’Shvat. Not a Jewish holiday I’ve ever celebrated before, but this one is all about trees. I’ll show some love to a tree or two.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Another Saturday spent racing about, gathering supplies for the upcoming week’s celebrations. We’ve got peppermint patties, three kinds of cheddar, and everything we need for our second grand bagel-and-lox brunch. But we also had some celebrating to do.

National Boy Scouts Day / Boy Scouts Month

Having never been a member of any scouting organization, I am at a loss as to how best to commemorate this day and month. Perhaps my parents were put off by the Scout Oath, which mentions a duty to God that they may not have approved of. Maybe they didn’t want me to acquire survival skills in the event of an apocalypse, so that they could cook me and eat me first. Or maybe my dad was just reluctant to volunteer. I never saw the man even enter a tent, let alone go camping.

The Boy Scouts harken back to British war hero Lord Baden-Powell, whose 1908 book Scouting for Boys is the fourth-bestselling book of all time. Baden-Powell himself launched the UK Scout Association, which is currently led by TV adventurer Bear Grylls. The Scouts are a great organization, teaching honour, loyalty, duty, courtesy, obedience, and living in harmony with nature. Not a bad curriculum.

How many Scouts (and Guides and Brownies, etc.) are there around the world? More than double Canada’s population. There are over 17 million donning the uniforms in Indonesia alone. The Scouts have also been a pivotal part of history.

When the British were stretching their limbs across Africa and India they employed the Scouts as a means of teaching the local kids to stay in line with the authoritarian folks in charge. Sounds like a great way to corral the masses, except for that pesky Fourth Scout Law, which states that a scout was a brother to every other scout. Regardless of race. Eventually the locals were using Scouting as a way to challenge the regime in charge, turning it back upon itself.

Our kids were never that excited about joining the Scouts, though our son gave it a try. We’ll send a two-finger salute their way, however. And they can have dibs on camping; I was taught to stick with hotels.

National Kite Flying Day

We were prevented from celebrating this particular day, mostly by nature. We have a couple of kites stashed somewhere in the garage (I think), but we also have a climate besieged by winter in February. Every damn year.

Not that you need summer weather to toss a piece of tethered canvas into the air and watch it surf the wind. But you do need wind. And we had absolutely no wind all day, which would have left us running through a snowy field, dragging a kite behind us like idiots.

So, much as with the Scouts, our celebration will arrive in the form of education. The earliest depiction of a kite dates back to 9,500-9,000 BC: a sketch on a cave in what we now call Indonesia. The Chinese claim to have invented kites a lot later, in 5th-century BC, the work of philosopher Mozi and engineer Lu Ban. I like that – a recreational pastime concocted by a philosopher. Like finding out Nietzsche invented the hackysack or something.

Kites can also kill. Korean general Kim Yu-sin used flaming kites solely to scare the bejeezus out of the enemy. During the Song Dynasty, the Chinese came up with a kite that was rigged with powder, a fuse, and a burning stick of incense. They’d aim the kites at the enemy or their buildings and BOOM. This isn’t antiquated tech either – Palestinians were using similar technology in 2018.

But kites are also crucial to science. Ben Franklin got zapped proving you shouldn’t fly kites in a lightning storm. Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright Brothers all tried using huge kites to lift humans in the air. Kites were used to measure the weather. And apparently scientists are working on underwater kites to harness renewable power from the depths. We couldn’t fly one yesterday, but we certainly toasted their inarguable awesomeness.

National Iowa Day

Our journey around the 50 states continued yesterday with the Hawkeye State. Once a part of French Louisiana and Spanish Louisiana, Iowa has become one of the safest states in which to live. Why? Maybe it’s all the corn.

What do we really know about Iowa? By “we” I mean literally “we” – two Canadians who have never set foot in the place. Well, it has dropped from being 96.6% white to about 90% white since 1990, so hooray for diversity in Des Moines. We know they run the first presidential caucus in every election, and apparently sometimes keeping track of those votes is difficult. Iowa was one of the first states to make racial discrimination illegal, the University of Iowa was the first in the nation to admit men and women equally, and it was the third state to allow same-sex marriages. Not a bad record.

Cool people from Iowa? Well, there’s Johnny Carson, Lara Flynn Boyle, Steve Higgins, jazz pioneer Bix Beiderbecke, comedian Jake Johannsen, Ashton Kutcher, Ron Livingston (from the film Office Space), Glenn Miller, Kate Mulgrew, Donna Reed, Paul Rust, John Wayne, Elijah Wood, and of course Radar O’Reilly and Captain James T. Kirk.

Our celebration came in the form of the Maid-Rite sandwich, which is apparently an Iowa classic. It’s simply seasoned ground beef on a bun. But it’s not a sloppy Joe – the sauce is what sloppifies the Joe. Tomato sauce, and often ketchup – none of that in the Maid Rite. The result is still sloppy, but with bits of tumbling beef, not a dripping sauce. And the flavour is savoury instead of sweet. It is truly a fantastic piece of sandwichry.

Opera Day

Having zero connection to opera, despite growing up ensconced in music, this day posed a challenge. Do we venture to a local opera performance? Attempt to sing some ourselves, insulting an entire profession in the process? In the end, it was about listening to the music. Puccini’s La Bohème accompanied the creation of this article, and it was beautiful and impressive beyond words.

Except that it was just music. Operas have a narrative, and that narrative is remarkably difficult to follow when singers are blasting out their gusto-backed lyrics in a language I don’t understand. Jodie has seen opera live, I have not. Unless you count the man belting Klingon opera at the top of his lungs at the Star Trek exhibit in Las Vegas twenty years ago.

By today’s standards, opera is one of the most inaccessible forms of music to the average listener. But art speaks in its own language, and you don’t need a crash-course in Italian to feel the emotion and passion of opera on the underside of your skin. One day we may venture from baroque through bel canto, and uncover as many secrets as opera has to offer, but for now this day will remain an outlier.

Propose Day

I proposed to Jodie. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Sure.” I’ve never been so happy.

An easy little day for a Sunday, which will leave us time to watch the Oscars and reflect on how tragically few movies we’ve seen in the last year.

  • National Bagel Day. Our second such day, and the one that used to be known as Bagel & Lox Day. We’ll be eating that.
  • National Pizza Day. Finally. The day reserved for nature’s finest food.
  • Read In The Bathtub Day. A fairly simple task that one of us will undertake.
  • Man Day. I’ll try to figure out what it means to be a man. I will most likely not succeed.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

This was an unusual day. Most of our celebrations circulated the dinner hour, yet one National Day stood out as a perpetual reminder that I (Marty) was, for this day, in a state of constant revelry, even to the point where it became obnoxious. Jodie? She was fine.

National Hat Day

Where once my wiry dirty-blond tresses could fly free with the wind (and fly they did, taking flight in greater numbers than I’d anticipated), yesterday they remained clamped to my head ‘neath a flat cap. A bunnet. A scally cap. A cheese-cutter. Wait – in New Zealand they call these hats “cheese-cutters”? Great. I spent all day with a fart atop my head.

I made the lifestyle adjustment to honour the day; Jodie had no need to follow suit, however. Her school’s rule-book forbids the wearing of hats, probably because one rotten kid showed up with some witty but naughty saying (like “Send Noodz” or something), and they ruined it for everyone. I don’t look great in most hats, but I like this one – albeit for a short stint. Wearing a hat all day whilst toiling away in a cubicle tends to make the minutes tick by a little slower. So instead I’ll raise my glass (stinky as it may be – more on that below) to the tuques and wool caps that are keeping us Canadians from tripping over fallen ear-parts in the streets. Stay warm, everyone.

National Bagel Day

For all its flaws, this universe is fairly well designed. We get two doughnut days this year, and – because one was originally known as “Bagels & Lox Day” – two bagel days. It’s the February 9 National Bagel Day that used to insist on a smoked salmon companion, but there is truly no greater way to enjoy a bagel so we’ll simply perform an encore that day.

The noble bagel has Polish origins, specifically among the Jewish communities. This is likely why my (Marty’s) most prized bagel memories are the ones baked by my Polish grandmother. Those puffy bread-rings were perfection: they required no toasting (no good bagel should require toasting), and tasted heavenly on their own. Apparently bagels used to be given as gifts to women in childbirth back in the 15th century, so if any OB-GYNs are reading this, that could be a hilarious piece of trivia to drop in the middle of your next patient’s labour. If you use it, let me know how it lands.

I don’t care for those sweet berry-filled spreads, and I won’t go anywhere near those pulled-taffy dough-globs they call bagels at our local fast food outlets. But otherwise, be it sesame seed, poppy seed, naked and free or loaded with everything, you can’t go wrong with a great bagel for any meal. Next, however, you must decide with what you shall wash it down…

National Booch Day

It’s not an ideal pairing, but the bagel with kombucha is where the fates steered us yesterday. Jodie had tasted the stuff before and wasn’t a fan. It was my first kombucha rodeo.

On the one hand, I liked it. It smelled a little like fart, and that didn’t go away, but the taste was fruity and refreshing. That said, it was a bit much for the evening repast. It had a humble fizz to it, and would probably be a tasty mid-morning beverage for a bit of a natural lift. It just didn’t pair with smoked fish.

Kombucha is a fermented tea originally enjoyed in Manchuria, a region of northeastern China known for its… candidates. There have been numerous claims of health perks from drinking the stuff, but no scientific proof that I can find. That said, if you’re going to consume something with some flavour you could do a lot worse. Interesting note, if you extract the kombucha culture and dry it, it becomes a leather-like textile that you can use to make seamless clothing. I respect a beverage I can wear as pants.

There are a few warnings of some rare possible side-effects, but the one I would watch out for are the people who call it ‘Booch’. Just… just call it what it is, let’s not get pretty about it. But if you haven’t tried it, grab a bottle and give it a shot! Sure, you might spit it out, or reject it outright once you catch a whiff of that fart-smell, but life is short and you may as well sample everything at its buffet, right?

National Strawberry Ice Cream Day

For example, sample some strawberry ice cream, like we did yesterday. Strawberry is one of the three Neapolitan pillars of creamy magnificence. It was the third option for milkshake buyers for years, until science opened up a wider world. It’s classic and retro, yet shockingly vibrant and alive. And sure, the weather may suggest that downing a scoop or two would only increase Mother Nature’s January fisticuff of frigidity, but don’t be fooled – ice cream is a fine winter treat.

Trust us, we’ve been eating the stuff all week.

Today we aim to do as little as possible, not only because we both awoke with some unpleasant stomach concerns (we blame neither bagel nor booch, and don’t even think we’ll pin this on the ice cream), but because today’s star demands minimalsim:

  • National Nothing Day. How do we celebrate multiple things while celebrating nothing? By celebrating only nothing-ish things.
  • National Fig Newton Day. It won’t take any effort to toss a few figgy newtons down our throats today.
  • National Quinoa Day. Another quick and easy solution; we’ve even bought a pre-made quinoa salad so we don’t have to put any effort into making it.
  • Anniversary of Prohibition. Out of respect for those poor Americans who had to endure 13 years of a bad political decision, we will not consume any alcohol today.